tv Q A CSPAN November 4, 2012 11:00pm-12:00am EST
book on william steward and the house of commons with -- and a debate between [captioning performed by national captioning institute] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2012] >> this week on "q&a," author walter stahr discusses "seward: lincoln's indispensable man." >> why did you start with -- >> i considered other possible introductions.
i thought about starting the book at the moment where he learned he would not be the republican nominee. i thought about starting the book with his graduation address. in the end, nothing was as compelling as that night in which president lincoln dies and seward comes within an inch of his life as well. he sent two men to kill secretary seward. they knew exactly where he was. they knew he could not fight back.
one of the assassins outside, they guarded the door. he tells the servant he is bringing madison to seward and has to give it to them personally. they chat for a while and finally he walks by the servant and up the stairs. he has a similar conversation with seward's son. his son says, you are not disturbing my father. during the conversation between him and the assassin, the daughter in the room hears it and comes out.
the assassin asks if seward is asleep, and she says he is not quite. now he knows exactly where to find him. he pulls his pistol out and fires. the gun misfires. he knows how to fight. he clubs frederick to within an inch of his life. with a knife in the other hand, he burst into seward's bedroom. he pushes aside a male nurse. an army man. he puts one hand on seward and slashes down toward his face and neck. because it is vertical rather than horizontal, he slashes the side of seward's face. he does not sever the windpipe
or the arteries. it is hard to know exactly what happened. seward either rolls himself or is pushed off the bed. the assassin is wrestled away from seward and out the door. he stabs one more person. a total of six people are seriously injured in the course of five minutes. >> who is william seward? >> the secretary of state, since lincoln's in operation in 1861. the state is 1865, the day of lincoln's assassination. we are just a few steps from white house, where the court of federal claims is today. one of my hopes is that some day there will be a plaque there so people know secretary seward lived there during the civil
war. >> abraham lincoln has been reelected. there is a plot to kill the vice president, andrew johnson. he survives. where was he that night? >> he was at home. the person who assigned that task had a drink and decided there was not actually an attack on johnson, there was a failed attack. the mastermind of this conspiracy was just a few blocks away from seward's house and succeeds on like an's life. >> we have a before and after picture of william seward. back before that night, how was he injured and why was he in bed?
>> in early april, seward, one of his customs was to take a carriage ride in the late afternoon. he, his daughter, and one of his daughter's girlfriends were going to take a carriage ride in the late afternoon. the driver starts off from their house but the door is not closed. where the vermont avenue has a
towering office building, the driver gets out, gets down, goes around to close the door, and the horses bolt. seward, thinking he might save them all, tries to jump out and grab the reins. instead, he falls to the ground, breaks his arm, shatters his job, black and blue all over his body. given his age and given the severity of the injury, the doctors were initially very worried. they summoned his wife from auburn, new york. she came down as quickly as she can. >> time before the assassination attempt? >> about two weeks. >> he is in bed. >> injured. after a day or two, it was clear he would survive the carriage incident. the telegram that went up to auburn, it said, come back. she had just arrived. they said, you do not have to come immediately. >> the war is not quite over?
>> no. lincoln is down there for what he hopes will be the final push. indeed, between the time of seward's carriage accident and his return to washington, the famous state in which lincoln walks through richmond and then he returns to washington. the first thing lincoln does is go straight for the train station to see his friends who were in bed and seward wakes up and the two of them talk a while. seward cannot set up. in order to converse more comfortably, lincoln gets into bed with him, leaning on his elbow, and the two of them shot for an hour. >> how do we know? >> frederick's memoire, the son, and fannie seward, the daughter, kept a wonderful diary. >> he is 64. how old are his sons, augustus, frederick, and fannie? >> fannie is 19.
augustus is late 20's. frederick, early 20's. >> they are young. what was the assassin's name? >> alternative names. lewis powell. late 20's. not more than that. a confederate veteran. a big man. 6 feet, 3 inches. it would have been army patrols immediately after the assassination. armed guards are around after, but no, no one protecting the secretary of state. some scholars think booth realized in the event of the debt of both the president and the vice president, the secretary of state was tasked with organizing the election. i do not think so.
he was not a lawyer, he was an actor. a shakespearean actor who knew caesar backward and forward. he viewed himself as brutus, doing the right thinking. he viewed lincoln as caesar, the tyrant. he wanted to be the co-tyrant was eliminated, as well as the tyrant. >> the night before, what happened? >> the night before this, or two nights, lincoln gives a speech celebrating what seems to be the end of the war. the crowd expects this will be a triumphant, we one speech. instead, it is lincoln talking about the difficulties of the destruction, getting the nation back together. he talks about particularly the new state government with federal support down in louisiana. for the first time, publicly, he talks about the possibility that blacks might vote or some
blacks might vote. he puts it, the intelligent or those who served in the military. we do not have precise wording, but he turns to the accomplice and says, that means nigger citizenship. i will put him through. that means he will kill lincoln. >> how do we know that? >> that is from the trial testimony. there were two of them with him. >> more on the assassination attempt. lewis powell knocks on the door, a young guy, tall. how did the get access? >> this is a clever thing booth did. he gave powell a little box or a vial and said it was medicine from the doctor. the young black servant was quite new, inexperienced, and not at all alive to the security aspects. as best we know, between the door and seward's bedroom door, the only other person powell meets is frederick seward. frederick is a bright young man, but no match for powell. >> what time of night was this? >> almost exactly the moment booth over at the theater is walking into lincoln's box. hopefully, the viewers can look at the picture of seward post- assassination attempt. that picture was taken in roughly 1871, a couple years afterward. even before that, the scars were more marked and horrible. seward was probably wearing some sort of an increment to keep his job in place in order to heal properly. that implement probably had some wires. not terribly thick, but the wire
for the first time, publicly, he talks about the possibility that blacks might vote or some blacks might vote. he puts it, the intelligent or those who served in the military. we do not have precise wording, but he turns to the accomplice and says, that means nigger citizenship. i will put him through. that means he will kill lincoln. >> how do we know that? >> that is from the trial testimony. there were two of them with him. >> more on the assassination attempt. lewis powell knocks on the door, a young guy, tall. how did the get access? >> this is a clever thing booth did. he gave powell a little box or a vial and said it was medicine from the doctor. the young black servant was quite new, inexperienced, and not at all alive to the security aspects. as best we know, between the
door and seward's bedroom door, the only other person powell meets is frederick seward. frederick is a bright young man, but no match for powell. >> what time of night was this? >> almost exactly the moment booth over at the theater is walking into lincoln's box. hopefully, the viewers can look at the picture of seward post- assassination attempt. that picture was taken in roughly 1871, a couple years afterward. even before that, the scars were more marked and horrible. seward was probably wearing some sort of an increment to keep his job in place in order to heal properly. that implement probably had some wires. not terribly thick, but the wire may well have deflected
the blade and helped along with growing out of bed and the darkness. >> how long did he live? >> october, 1872. >> how long was the secretary of state? >> he remains secretary of state right through the end of the johnson administration. >> how long did it take him to recover? >> he started this in two letters in the state department in a week or two and was back at his desk for two or three weeks, not for long periods of time. but he was a hard worker all his life. he felt it was important for him to be back at his desk. bear in mind his son, frederick, is the number two in the department. he takes much longer to recover. he is not back at his desk until the end of the year. we are also talking about a very small apartment, roughly 30 or 40 people here in washington. if we come to the present and
>> who was he? >> when i told them i was writing about him, people would get a panicked look on their face because they know the name but not much about empiric he was many things. president of the continental congress. he negotiated the treaty that ended the revolutionary war. secretary for foreign affairs. the first chief justice of the united states. governor of new york. senior positions over 25 years. >> why did you care about him? >> i did not initially. i started thinking about writing a book, and i was thinking about his friend, the man who penned the immortal preamble of the constitution. i started looking all around for biographies of his friends, and found that the most recent biography of john jay was over 30.
i thought i could do better than this. >> what have you been doing before that for a living? >> i was a corporate lawyer working in washington and also in hong kong when i got the idea of writing the jay book. >> are you still a lawyer? >> when asked what i do, i now say i am an author. i do very little legal work. >> why leave a lot and become a writer? >> i have always been a reader. one day in hong kong, i was reading a book, i forget which,
i was working full time. i had a very demanding job. but i started thinking about, could this be a topic, could this be a topic, and morris struck me in my reading as a potential topic. >> why seward? >> i published the jay book. went back to full-time legal work for a couple of years. i started thinking about a second book. i wanted to do something in the civil war era. i had just read a wonderful book. i met seward in that book. there was a lot more i wanted to know about him. how did he become governor at a young age? what did he do as governor? i bought a copy of the biography and read it and thought, i think i can do better than this. >> give us a brief synopsis of seward's live. >> he is born in new york.
not new york city. the rural new york in 1801. he studies law, becomes a lawyer, settles in auburn, new york. this is halfway between albany and buffalo. the day he starts practicing law, he starts practicing politics. he is elected governor of new york in 1888. he is elected to the federal senate in 1869. 1860, he is the favorite for the republican nomination but does not get it. he instead becomes secretary of state under lincoln and served eight years as secretary of state. he retired, travels and on the world, and died in 1872. >> his wife, and daughter, died
young. what were the circumstances and years? >> his wife was in ill health through much of the latter part of her life. she is roughly seward's age. she is summoned by the family from auburn, new york, where she spends most of the civil war years, down to washington after the carriage accident. she tends to her husband after the carriage accident. she is there on that terrible night of the assassination attempt. the houses are most painted with blood. for the next two weeks, as they begin to strengthen, she begins
to fail. see dies in july of 1865. an indirect victim of the assassination attempt. >> what did she die of? >> i think just stress and overwork of tending a houseful of invalids and the horror really of the president's dead and her husband's near death and her son's near death. >> she was born in 1805. what about fannie? >> it would appear tuberculosis. she talks about a cough, people talk about a cough who visited her. she is partly in auburn and partly in washington that year after her mother's death. she dies in washington in the fall of 1866. >> why did seward think he to be president of the united states? what happened? >> he nearly was president of the united states long before
1860. he was nearly getting the presidential nomination. it went to his rival. when president taylor died, not long after, seward reflected that if only the convention had done the right thing, he, rather than his rival, would be the president. he is a serious contender again for the republican nomination in 1856. he would have had it except for the fact that his friends thought the republican candidate would not win that year.
by 1860, he is the acknowledged leader of the republican party, the most prominent voice against the expansion of slavery. both republican and democratic newspapers almost conceded the nomination to him. >> i want to read from page 365 from your book a description you have of him. who is brooks? >> he is a young reporter. >> -- >> why was he unpopular with mrs. lincoln?
>> she never ceased to view him as a rival for her husband's position. she categorized seward as an abolitionist. she did not do her husband's position on slavery, but seward was an abolitionist. she comes from a southern background of slaves. seward, at one point, checks her desire to spend public funds for private purposes. there were a lot of reasons mary lincoln and william seward never hit it off.
>> what else is important? >> the approachable, talkative -- he is an incredibly -- he has a wonderful gift to meet the queen of england, or a common worker, and sit down and chat with them. >> when he was senator, what was the known for? >> mostly for the speech he gave against the compromise of 1850. he opposed the extension of slavery into the western territories and said those territories were dedicated by a
higher law of freedom rather than slavery. it was an elegant, 3 hour argument for the immediate admission of california and against the expansion of slavery into the west. it boiled down to a higher law. >> was there any doubt as to where he was on slavery? >> parents had slaves. people sometimes did doubt where he was on slavery. in the same speech, he said he was so eager to cement california to the union that if the people of california wanted to have a slavery constitution, he would take california in that form. at the time, an ohio lawyer and later his colleague in the league in cabinet, wrote to a friend saying, anyone prepared to except another slave state
is not with us on slavery. there were folks who doubted where he was on slavery. there is considerable doubt where he was on the emancipation proclamation. although he was known as the opponent of the extension of slavery, there are questions around the edges about his views on slavery. >> you paint a picture at the chicago convention in 1860 about why abraham lincoln won. a lot of it has something to do with anything but what his position was on issues. tell us that story. >> by that time, seward is well known. seward has been on record for longer about slavery. he had more that could be quoted against him. that is one concern. another is his attitude toward catholics and immigrants. as governor of new york, he made
in his quest that catholics would be educated. >> was he catholic? >> no. but he hates those who hate catholics. he speaks and acts against the nativists in the republican party. that is not a popular attitude with lots of republicans at the time. we forget his rival ran for president as a know-nothing and did well. >> nativist and know-nothing stand for what? >> anti-catholic. he gets his start as an anti- mason. it is not their main focus. >> i was interested in the picture you painted about the campaign manager for abraham lincoln, chicago, the padding of the audience, all that. >> one little detail i dug out of a historical society and i would feel much more confidence is that dave davis promises the pennsylvania delegates that if they would vote for lincoln, after the first cast the
ceremonial first ballot for their favorite son, cameron of pennsylvania, if they would shift over and vote for lincoln, cameron would have a place in the lincoln cabinet. one of cameron's supporters contrasted the reasonableness of judge davis on this point and the unreasonableness of seward's men who would not negotiate. cameron does indeed get a prominent place in the lincoln cabinet as war secretary, a position he is unsuited for. in less than a year, he is replaced. >> the story about bringing illinois locals in, is that a significant point? how did it happen? >> the convention is held in chicago. all of the details would be handled by friends of lincoln. they think they printed extra tickets for the day, bogus tickets, and passed them out to folks coming in. i mentioned patting the
audience. the range was not insignificant. davis arranges the force of the new york delegates were surrounded by people friendly to seward. the critical new yorkers cannot get from where they are over to twist the arms of new jersey and pennsylvania at critical moments. >> what was it about rivals that got you interested in all this? >> i did not know much about seward before i read that book. he emerges as a colorful character right at the center of the run up to the lincoln administration. she makes very good use of fannie's diary. even before putting the book down, i realized there were good sources. >> this is a 700-page book. a big publisher, a big book. how did you get them to do this? >> the book did not sell a lot
of copies. it was nicely reviewed. the combination of that and through a friend, i found an agent in new york. i had a book proposal when i first met the agent, but he made me improve the lot. he successfully sold it. >> do you have an idea how many copies were printed? >> more than 20,000. >> where did walter stahr come from? >> massachusetts, cambridge, born on the day my father started harvard law school. >> where did you grow up? >> southern california. >> phillips exeter played a big role on your life. what is it and your children have gone there. one is still there. what is it? >> a boarding school, one of those old-fashioned, back to the time of the revolution.
it is an exit in new hampshire, an hour's drive north of boston. i went there as a student myself. i graduated in 1975. a few years ago, my son started as a student. that first year he was there, there was a position for a math teacher open. my wife was teaching math in the d.c. area. she got that position. we have now lived there for our sixth school year now. a lot of famous people have gone there. john irving, dan brown, among writers. daniel webster. political figures. it has been around a long time. >> you say in your book that daniel webster did not like seward. >> yes. there were some instances where they worked together. when seward and arrived in
washington as a senator, he has quite a bit of sway over president taylor. webster was trying to get a position for his son. he seeks seward's help. >> after that school, what is next? >> i went back west to stanford university for an undergraduate. i came back east to graduate school, harvard, law and public policy. i came back to washington. >> you worked in politics? where? >> my most political position was as a senior counsel to the chairman of the fcc. my duties largely were dealing with congress and helping write speeches. a lot of political aspects. >> where did you get your
interest in the idea of writing? you talked about reading and saying that is not well written? where was your first instruction in writing? >> phillips exeter. a rigorous curriculum there. it continued in stanford and harvard. i worked on an environmental law review and harvard. one of the things that
>> what would you say the experience of writing about seward was like? >> this was fun. to go to the library of congress and other libraries and work your way through the secondary things written about seward. he is an interesting character. there is a lot of material. more than anyone could read in a lifetime. to work my way through that and try to put him on the page was a fun experience.
>> at the end of your book, you call him one of the great statesmen of all time. >> i think i said of the 19th century in america. >> i will read it -- >> why? what did he do? >> well, we know there was no war with britain and france, but we forget how close it came. to avoid those wars and guide us through the civil war, diplomatically, it's a tremendous accomplishment. seward bought alaska. the other work he did toward the other acquisitions, he is
generally thought to be our second greatest secretary of state after only his friend and mentor, john quincy adams. i think that is right. it is hard to name another secretary of state who accomplishes more. >> how many times did he have his hands on the purchase or the acquiring of another country for the united states? >> it is hard to even count them. in terms of one that got very close, he signed a treaty with denmark. we ultimately acquire 30 years later. for a higher price.
he was within a few votes in the senate of acquiring the virgin islands. he signed a treaty with colombia to acquire the right to build the panama canal. that treaty was pending in the senate when word arrived that columbia's senate had rejected it. if he had more time, he could have worked out a revision to the treaty that would have been acceptable to the colombians and the senate. >> what about why? >> he finds a treaty dealing with trade rights that considerably improve trade between the independent kingdom of hawaii and the united states. he and others talk about the possibility of annexing the hawaiian islands.
>> how did he get into the whole alaska thing? >> going way back to when he first arrived in the senate, he had a strong fixation on the west coast. he was so eager to have california that he was prepared to accept it as a slave state. that fixation extends not just to california but all the way up the coast. he is very focused on oregon, washington, and the north. one of his great speeches is about wailing in the northern pacific and advocates a survey. he has had his eye on this part of the world for quite a while. after the war in 1866, he has conversations with the russian minister here in washington. seward is informed he now has
the authority to sell. over the course of the next days, they had signed the treaty. >> how much did it cost us? >> $7 million in gold, which was worth a little bit more than $7.2 million. >> how controversial was it? >> that is one of the things i think is a little a erroneous in the common understanding. the common understanding is immediately after it was announced, it was denounced as seward's folly. it was known there was gold. for me, it is the senate vote. the senators would not have voted so overwhelmingly in his favor.
the controversy is later as people begin to send that seward has bigger plans. >> go back to the time period. how many things back in 1861 through 1869 word different than they are today? simple things. what was life like? seward traveled a lot. where did he go? how long did it taken to get there? >> he traveled a great deal. initially, as a state senator, we are talking about traveling by stagecoach along the canal. he sees the first railroad in america built. by the end of his life, he travels around the world by the transcontinental railroad to get there. he travels three times to europe in the course of his life. first on sailboat, later on steamships. he is a member of the foreign
relations committee in 1869. it is a personal trip. he makes good use of the railroad on his campaign tours especially in 1860 when he gets as far west as minnesota and kansas. you cannot quite get to minnesota and kansas by rail at that time. there were gaps he had to take. stagecoaches or steamboats on the mississippi. >> when the country but alaska, how much did we know about it? >> we knew more than i initially thought. i was intrigued there were reliable reports, not just crazy old settlers, but geologists of gold. i would have thought if the russians had any idea, they would have demanded a lot more
than $7.20 million. there were parts that are not thoroughly explored. >> did they have heat? was there electricity? was there a telephone? >> no. there were telegraph. they were critical in the civil war. from seward's perspective, the telegraph that was missing was the telegraph across the atlantic. he had legislative support in getting the transatlantic telegraph, which worked briefly before the civil war, but did not work at all during the civil war. the end of seward's tenure as secretary of state, the telegraph was working again.
>> today, the media question is ever present. people complaining on both sides about the bias in media. in his day, when he ran for president, who is henry, horace? >> they were all newspaper editors. no television, no radio, but newspapers, almost always with a very definite bias. henry was the editor of "the new york times." it is a not a huge and national institution at the time. but it is very closely aligned with seward. >> the republicans? >> all three of those you named are republicans.
horace, another personal friend of seward's. he is the editor of the tribune, and more widely read a paper than in new york times. his closest political friend is the editor of the albany news. another republican paper. much more widely read and any albany paper is today. >> if the atmosphere was, in the middle of the presidential campaign, what with the republicans say about the media? >> not that the media as a whole has a bias, but there aren't any unbiased papers. you do not have to read long in the 19th century newspaper to say, this is a douglas paper, or a lincoln paper. their news coverage is so kite linked with their editorial coverage. >> what role did, what they call seward?
william or henry? >> he is known to his family as henry. we now refer to them as william henry seward. >> what role did he play in the impeachment of andrew johnson, the successor to abraham lincoln? >> he plays a central role in impeachment. he raises the money to defend andrew johnson. he helps andrew johnson to collect his defense lawyers. >> why was he impeached? >> johnson is impeached by the house of representatives and tried by the senate and comes within one vote of being removed from office. there were a handful of republicans who switched sides and voted to acquit johnson, seven, to be precise. >> were there any campaign finance laws back in those days? >> there were none.
it was understood and illegal to bribe a senator and to vote one way or the other. in the johnson impeachment, i reluctantly conclude that probably some of this money that was raised in the defense of andrew johnson made it into the pockets of the senators in return for their votes. >> how could you tell? >> one telltale sign is that roughly $100,000 was raised for the defense fund. we have the bills, they are over in the library of congress, from lawyers.
the lawyers will take $11,000. $90,000 go to the lobbyists. it defies reason. another telling detail, a newspaper article not long after the impeachment relates a meeting at which seward and a couple others meet with several lobbyists and they say, how much will it cost to acquit. the lobbyist and throws out a figure of a quarter of a million dollars. they said they could not raise that. he says, well then you cannot
acquit. these are not commensurate with the hourly rates of lobbyists. >> what did you find about the influence of money back then? >> the impeachment is really only one of three instances where it seems money plays a role in critical decisions on capitol hill. seward is at the center of it. the first is the passage of the 13th amendment. the amendment to end slavery. it passes in 1864. getting it to the house of representatives will be much more difficult. lincoln turned to seward. again, it seemed that money was involved.
one lobbyist writes to seward and says if patriotism does not do it, money will. the impeachment is another. the passage of the appropriation for alaska through the house of representatives. as i mentioned -- it ratified the treaty. you still need money to pay the russians. the house of representatives, asserting its constitutional control, is very reluctant to appropriate the money. seward hires a set of lobbyists and tells two witnesses, one is andrew johnson, accounts the amounts that is paid to certain people. >> what is the story of the name and picture in your book?
>> that is the risque and racy part of the book. after seward's wife and daughter dies, he is in need of female companionship. the newspapers in washington star to report that he is paying attention to a woman in her 20's. the newspapers favor that the two of them would get married. one says he is an energetic, wealthy older man. he is still secretary of state. you have newspapers speculating about the potential winter- generational marriage.
>> olive risley is how old? >> in her 20's. 23. >> what happens? >> nothing. he does not marry her. he retires. they write letters to one another. he signs, affectionately, warmly. he hopes to lower her and her father and sister along with him on his first trip to california and alaska, but they do not know the area there are even warmer letters when he is in mexico. he hopes soon to rejoin her and never be parted. he comes back to auburn and start planning a second trip. on this trip, the three of them and others will come along. they all leave auburn in 1870. the party dwindles. by the time they get to beijing, the party consists of seward, the two girls, the father has gone back.
in victorian terms, that group cannot continue a round world. it is simply improper for an elderly gentleman to be traveling in the company of two unmarried women. seward adopts her as his daughter. thus, she becomes olive risley seward. he writes his will to give her a share of his estate. he continues around the world in the company of his "daughter." >> what do you think? >> i doubt there was much by way of physical relationship between the two of them. i would not be shocked if there was some relationship.
he was getting older, weakened by the knife attack. he suffered from some sort of gradual paralysis of his hands and arms. i think she is closer to a daughter than a girlfriend. i would not rule out that there were ahead least initially some girlfriend aspects. >> are you glad you left the practice of law to be a writer? >> yes. >> have you thought about another book? >> i have. i am starting work on a colleague, edwin stanton. it will take a few years. there is a lot to work through. i think there is an interesting story. >> he was with the president when he was dying. >> there were a lot of things. i am thinking about starting the book.
on the same night, in the bedroom, as edwin stanton, with one eye on the dying president, starts the manhunt for both and the other killers. >> our guest has been walter stahr. he has a book about john jay and his new book, "seward: lincoln's indispensable man." thank you for coming. >> for a dvd copy of this program call 1-877-662-7726. for free transcripts or to give us your comments about this program, visit us at www.q-and- a.org. "q&a" programs are also available as c-span podcasts.